The pandemic proved to be a roller-coaster ride for restaurateurs that plunged restaurants into closures, then a series of loops as they were allowed to offer take-out, then patio dining, then indoors, then patio again, and now finally something resembling normal.
At Corazon Modern Kitchen restaurant in downtown Brea, which recently celebrated its one-year anniversary, owner and Chef Fernando Romero had even more loops thrown at him.
“I took over the lease on March 13 of 2020, and three days later everything closed down,” recalled Romero. “It was hard to get contractors in here, and when we finally opened in March 2021 everything was outdoors, it was raining, we were not set up to offer things to-go, there was a backlog on to-go containers.
“It was hard.”
Romero said that during his first year in business, he had to believe that things would get better, because “I could have found any excuse not to open. It was like five years rolled into one. I believed that once we opened, we would make it.”
Make it, he did. A year later, Corazon, which is Spanish for heart, is thriving. The restaurant’s diners happily pack the restaurant—whose interior is modern and stylish, with colorful artwork and an open kitchen—for dinner, while lunch business has also returned.
Classics With a Twist
The cuisine is what Romero calls “a taste of Mexico. We are not authentic, it’s old classics with our twist. It’s how we want to eat them—more elevated, with more flavor. Customers appreciate the taste, they come with an open mind.”
The dishes are all Romero’s recipes. Some date back a few years to his previous restaurant in Palos Verdes, others have been developed with Corazon in mind.
Romero said his interest in the restaurant business came from his father, who worked for Don Callender, the founder of Marie Callender’s restaurants who went on to open other restaurant concepts.
Romero grew up in the kitchen, learning cooking techniques and how to order quality goods and produce.
“I’m a big foodie, and we would go places and I’d think about what I’d do better,” recalled Romero. “I am always looking at dishes, what would I do with it and how I’d incorporate it.”
The resulting recipes are tantalizing twists on familiar dishes. His Tomahawk chop comes with jalapeño butter served on a sizzling salt slab with tortillas, while his hibiscus mole is a fun take on tradition.
Perhaps his El Tamal is the most creative.
“It’s a tamale turned upside down and inside-out,” Romero stated. “Every holiday we ate tamales—New Year’s, Thanksgiving, Christmas. They are very good, but they have a very dull flavor, and I am all about flavor, so I came up with this version—masa, marinated chicken on top, with tomatillo sauce. People eat it and their eyes roll back. It’s one of our top sellers, it’s unique, you won’t have it anywhere else. Everything we do is that concept.”
Romero said his goal is to open another five to 10 Corazon restaurants.
“We are ready with recipes and concept, and this is proof of concept,” he said. There’s a section on the Corazon website that interested investors can go to for more information.
Corazon Modern Kitchen: 120 S. Brea Blvd., Ste. 106, Brea, (714) 758-5817, corazontm.com
THE OCBJ Review
Chef Fernando Romero had me try the El Tamal, and I have to admit it’s a terrific dish. It is essentially a deconstructed tamale, but the flavors pop on the palate.
Next came a trio of seabass tacos on corn tortillas with cabbage, pico de gallo, avocado and cilantro.
I also tried the queso fundido—a three cheese blend with chorizo mix, pasilla peppers, potatoes, guacamolito sauce and crema fresca. The portion is generous enough for three or four to share, or one hungry food writer. I’d easily be happy with that and a cucumber winerita, something Romero dreamt up that incorporates muddled cucumber, lime juice, agave nectar, cilantro, jalapeños,
and agave wine. Add a salt and paprika rim, and you have a cocktail unlike anything I’ve tasted.
Corazon lists six wineritas plus other wine drinks on the menu.
Romero also makes his own draft beers in Tecate, Mexico. I tasted several, and again they were excellent. The citrus lager and passion fruit were my favorites.
Romero brought three desserts to the table: tiramisu made with Mexican rum, a tres leches cake, and cheese cake flan. These are delicious desserts that wisely come in small portions and are easy to eat.
And like the other dishes I tried, all are modern twists on classics.